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Marsden Hartley

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Hurricane Island, Vinalhaven, Maine, 1942

About the Artwork

This powerful painting conveys Marsden Hartley's lifelong fascination with nature and his particular affection for his native Maine. He spent the summer and fall of 1938 on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine, and later recalled his trip in dramatic seascapes such as this depiction of Hurricane Island. The atmospheric, brooding quality of the scene reflects the artist's personal and emotional interpretation of the natural world around him. High cliffs, rendered in subtly blended browns, yellows, and reds and punctuated by spontaneous, calligraphic marks, dominate the composition, while the rocky foreground, turbulent water, darkly silhouetted pine trees, and bizarre cloudlike form in the sky create a sense of foreboding. Hartley painted this scene at the age of sixty-five, a year before his death, after a long and successful career as a leading American modernist. Beginning in the early twentieth century, he played an active role among the group of vibrant artists who gathered around Alfred Stieglitz's New York gallery, known as 291, which presented several solo exhibitions of Hartley's work. During trips to Paris, Berlin, and Munich, he was exposed to the art of the European avant-garde artists and was particularly interested in paintings by Paul Cézanne, Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Henri Matisse, whose experiments with light, abstraction, color, and mood he incorporated into his own distinct style. Emily Hage, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 208.

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